Denominations, although often maligned, are important for the continued health and vitality of the church. Contributors from a variety of evangelical traditions share their personal stories for the sake of unity across denominational lines.
|Product dimensions:||8.80(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
Anthony L. Chute (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; MDiv, Beeson Divinity School) is professor of church history and associate dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University. He is the author of several books and has served as a pastor of multiple churches. He and his wife, Connie, have two children.
Christopher W. Morgan (PhD, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary) is a professor of theology and the dean of the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University. He is the author oreditor ofover twenty books, including several volumes in the Theology in Community series.
Robert A. Peterson (PhD, Drew University) is a writer and theologian. He taught for many years at various theologicalseminaries and has written oredited over thirty books.
Gerald Bray(DLitt, University of Paris-Sorbonne) is research professor at Beeson Divinity School and director of research for the Latimer Trust. He is a prolific writer and has authored or edited numerous books, including The Doctrine of God,Biblical Interpretation, God Is Love, and God Has Spoken.
Bryan Chapellis the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Peoria, Illinois. Heis also the host of a daily half-hour radio Bible teaching program,Unlimited Grace, and the founder and chairman of Unlimited Grace Media (unlimitedgrace.com). Bryanpreviously served as the president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the author of a number of books, includingHoliness by Grace.
David S. Dockery (PhD, University of Texas) is the president of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, following more than eighteen years of presidential leadership at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. He is a much sought-after speaker and lecturer, a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and the author or editor of more than thirty books. Dockery and his wife, Lanese, have three sons andseven grandchildren.
Timothy George (ThD, Harvard University) is the founding dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches theology and church history. He serves as general editor for Reformation Commentary on Scripture and has written more than twenty books. His textbook Theology of the Reformers is the standard textbook on Reformation theology in many schools and seminaries.
Timothy C. Tennent (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is presidentof Asbury Theological Seminary, where he also serves as professor of world Christianity. He is a frequent conference speaker and is the author of several books and articles.
Read an Excerpt
Toward a Theology of the Unity of the Church
Christopher W. Morgan
After a worship service one Sunday, I stood in the foyer to greet the church family. In a span of less than thirty minutes, prayer needs abounded: a key leader's mother who is stricken with Alzheimer's has to be placed in a nursing home; some terrific children are stuck in the middle of a messy divorce; missionaries to the Middle East are sorting out how to proclaim the gospel in the midst of a tricky social transition; a solid family has allowed disagreement to create disharmony among them; a deacon, who as a police officer was shot during a seemingly routine traffic stop, still struggles with an excruciatingly painful hip; a nearby church remains embattled by leaders who seem more interested in advancing their agendas than in embodying the love of Christ; the tears and tender hug from a recent widow disclose her continued grief. Add to these the unstated concerns of the people that day — bankruptcy, loneliness, arthritis, barrenness, restlessness, regret, fear, shame, and guilt — and we may safely conclude that we are not in heaven yet!
Not only do our prayer needs remind us that all is not right in the world, but watching the evening news also points to this, as wars, disasters, disease, murder, suicide, starvation, homelessness, and political wrangling fill the hour. Even the seemingly insignificant peace T-shirts and "all we need is love" songs suggest that things are not the way they're supposed to be. Indeed, our longings for peace and love reveal that we do not have peace and love in its fullness; these longings also show that we believe that peace and love are good and right, the way things ought to be.
The Bible acknowledges the rightness of these deep-seated longings and even offers a historical narrative that frames how we understand them. The narrative begins with God's creating everything in a way that pleases him and benefits his creatures (Genesis 1–2). The goodness of God and the goodness of his creation are highlighted by the creation account's refrain, "And God saw that it was good" (see 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). By creating humanity in his image, God distinguishes us from the rest of creation and establishes a Creator creature distinction. Genesis 1–2 depicts all this as good, as Adam and Eve are blessed with an unhindered relationship with God, intimate enjoyment of each other, and delegated authority over creation.
But rather than submitting to God and finding their pleasure in him, Adam and Eve rebel against God, wanting ultimate autonomy. Genesis 3:6 records the fall in a rapid fashion: "she saw," "she took," "she ate," and "she gave," culminating in "he ate." The couple immediately feels shame, realizing they are naked (v. 7), estranged from God (vv. 8–10), and fearful (vv. 9–10). Their alienation from each other also emerges, as the woman blames the serpent and the man blames the woman and even God (vv. 10–13)! Pain, sorrow, and relational disruption also arise (vv. 15–19). Even worse, the couple is banished from Eden and God's glorious presence (vv. 22–24).
In sum, through their disobedience, sin entered and disrupted their relationship to God, to each other, and to creation. Adam's sin, while personal and historical, is also corporate and cosmic, plunging all humanity into sin (Rom. 5:12–21) and resulting in a creation that longs for freedom (8:18–28). So disorder and disunity exist — personally, communally, and cosmically.
Thankfully, the biblical story continues and recounts how God is intent on bringing peace out of the disorder through a mission of reconciliation. His plan is astonishing — to glorify himself through a full-scale restoration of cosmic unity. As we will see, the church and its unity are central in this plan. The biblical material on this is massive, but Paul's letter to the Ephesians emphasizes the church and its unity. Therefore, we will use Ephesians as our guide as we set forth the contours of the theology of church unity.
The Unity of the Church Showcases God's Purpose of Cosmic Unity
Disorder and disunity will not last forever. God is on a mission to bring about cosmic unity. Whereas sin has resulted in disharmony, God's eternal plan for reconciliation brings peace and wholeness.
God's Purpose of Cosmic Unity
This plan addresses the personal, communal, and cosmic consequences of the fall by bringing all things together in Christ — uniting people to him, uniting people to one another, and even uniting the cosmos in Christ. And the church plays a central role in this plan.
The essence of God's plan, which is set forth in Christ, is "to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:10). Notice that "all things" are specified as "things in heaven and things on earth." This is comprehensive language for an eschatological uniting of the cosmos in Christ (cf. Rom. 8:18–30; 2 Cor. 5:14–21; Col. 1:15–20). Peter O'Brien explains: "The emphasis now is on a universe that is centered and reunited in Christ. The mystery which God has graciously made known refers to the summing up and bringing together of the fragmented and alienated elements of the universe ('all things') in Christ as the focal point."
Accomplishing this eternal plan in history through his saving work, Christ is even called "our peace":
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Eph. 2:13–16)
In proclaiming Christ as our peace, Paul puts forward three participles that show how Christ has acted to bring peace: making both Jews and Gentiles one, destroying the barrier between them, and abolishing the hostility. What is this peace? O'Brien explains:
The term "peace" in both Old and New Testaments came to denote well-being in the widest sense, including salvation, the source and giver of which is God alone. "Peace" was used for harmony among people (Acts 7:26; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:3; Jas. 3:18) and especially for the messianic salvation (Luke 1:79; 2:14; 19:42). The term could describe the goal and content of all Christian preaching, the message itself being called "the gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15; cf. Acts 10:36; Eph. 2:17). The biblical concept of peace has to do with wholeness, particularly with reference to personal relationships. Peace describes an order established by the God of peace (1 Cor. 14:33; cf. Rom. 15:33; 16:20; Phil. 4:9). Christ himself is the mediator of that peace (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20). He gives peace to believers (2 Thess. 3:16); indeed, he himself is that peace.
Christ's objective accomplishment of this peace is subjectively applied to us by the Holy Spirit through our union with Christ, which addresses the three spheres: personal, communal, and cosmic. In Christ, we as individuals are linked to Christ's death and resurrection and thus receive salvation (Eph. 1:3–14; 2:1–10). In Christ, we are together linked to Christ's death and resurrection and thus are united to each other and become God's people, the church (2:11–22; 3:1–6). And in Christ, the whole cosmos is linked to Christ's saving work and is being reconciled (1:9–10; 3:9–11).
The Church and God's Purpose
God's new creation — including the church — is related to all three spheres of God's plan for cosmic unity. First, the church is composed of believers who were alienated from God but through the saving work of Christ have been united to him by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:1–10). The church consists of believers who no longer live in separation from God but are united to Christ and live with full access to God. Ephesians 1:3–14 depicts the church as the new covenant people of God. We are God's chosen people; we are God's holy people; we are God's worshiping people; we are the children of God, adopted into his family; we are the redeemed people; we are heirs with an inheritance. So, foundationally, the church is the new covenant people who are reconciled to God.
Second, the church is also the people of God reconciled to each other (Eph. 2:11–22). To be united to Christ also means we are united to one another. The reconciliation of the Jews and Gentiles is described as the creation of one new humanity (vv. 13–16). Christ our peace removes the hostility between Jews and Gentiles, and out of the formerly divided peoples he creates a new and unified humanity. Paul has already used new-creation language in verse 10. There it primarily refers to the salvation of believers, but may also include the larger sphere of the church. Here in verses 13–16 the new-creation language clearly refers to the church. As the focal point and inaugurator of the new creation, Christ, the Son of God, bears the divine image and is also "the one who by virtue of his death and resurrection is now re-creating a people into that same image." Gordon Fee explains:
For here is the one who is himself the "image" of God, who is the Father's own "firstborn," and by virtue of his resurrection the "firstborn" with regard to the new creation, is now the one who "re-creates" broken and fallen humanity back into the divine image that he himself has perfectly borne. The Creator of the first creation, who himself bears the Father's image, now is seen as the Creator of the new creation, as he restores his own people back into the divine image.
Because of Christ's saving work, and through our union with him, we as the church are now the image of God. We are the one new people, the new humanity, the people called to display God to the world — the new creation in the image of God, called to reflect Christ and embody God's holiness (Eph. 2:14–16; 4:13, 24). As this one new humanity, Jews and Gentiles together form God's nation, God's family, and God's temple:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (2:19–22)
Third, the church plays a key role in the cosmic dimension. As the people reconciled to God and to each other, the church showcases God's plan of cosmic reconciliation. Paul portrays this astonishing purpose of the church:
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Eph. 3:8–11)
So the current existence of the one new people, the church, testifies that God is on a project to create unity; the reality of the unity of Jews and Gentiles together as the one new humanity is an amazing testimony of God's broader purposes. Notice that the intended audience of this showcase is here described as the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, likely referring to both angels and demons. The point seems to be that the beings in the heavenly realms are put on notice: God is going to do cosmically what he has already done for individuals in Christ; and God is going to do cosmically what he has done corporately with the Jews and Gentiles. All things in heaven and on earth will be brought together in Christ; all things will highlight Christ as the focal point of the cosmos. So not only is Christ the Savior of sinners and the Head of the church; he is the goal of the entire cosmos! Paul's idea here is similar to that of Colossians 1:16, where he instructs us that all things are created by Christ and for Christ.
Amazingly, it is the church as God's visible exhibition that proclaims these cosmic purposes. In a sense, the church preaches Christ not only to humanity in the verbal proclamation of the gospel, but also to the entire cosmos through the visible display of unity. Bryan Chapell captures Paul's astounding point:
This grafting of the redeemed is so amazing that it was God's intent to use it to display his wisdom to the heavenly beings. Thus Paul's words create a celestial stage to display the wonders of grace. ... In union with other sinners made perfect, and as members of one body, we who come from every tribe and nation, people and personality, are on display as a church before the heavenly hosts as a testimony to the wisdom of God. ... Just as Paul's sin makes the grace of God more apparent, the uniting of sinners in the body of Christ makes the grace of God more brilliant — even to the hosts of heaven. By our unity in Christ's body, the church, we are preaching to the angels about the power, wisdom, and glory of God who made us.
This is the apex of Paul's thought about the church. ... Here we learn that the church is intended not only to transform the world but also to transfix heaven.
Thus, as the church we showcase God's purposes not just to each other and to the world, but according to Ephesians 3:9–12, even to the heavenly realms! And as we showcase God's eternal purpose of cosmic unity to the world, we are demonstrating that the kingdom of God has already broken into history. Certainly, there is a "not yet" aspect of the kingdom still to come. God's eternal purpose of cosmic reconciliation is not perfectly realized yet — sin and injustice still occur. But sin will not have the last word; disorder and division will not last forever. Though the present age can still be characterized as not the way things are supposed to be, God will bring about a new creation.
And what is so striking is that the apostle Paul asserts that God's new creation is already under way — in the church! The church is the first fruits of the ultimate new creation that is still to come; as the first fruits, we are both the genuine reality of the new creation and the foretaste of more to come. Thus, as the church, we are the new humanity, new society, new temple — a new creation. We are a foretaste of heaven on earth, a genuine embodiment of the kingdom, a glimpse of the way things are supposed to be, and a glimpse of the way the cosmos ultimately will be; we are a showcase of God's eternal plan of cosmic unity.
The Unity of the Church Displays the Unity of God
God creates the church as the one new humanity not only to display his eternal plan of cosmic reconciliation, but also to display himself and thus glorify himself. God has eternally planned to glorify himself by displaying himself through the church. In other words, God creates the church in order to display himself, and as he displays himself, he glorifies himself.
In the creation of the cosmos, God communicates himself (Ps. 19:1–6). And in the formation of Israel, God displayed himself. Israel was called to embody God's holiness. Israel's holiness was essential not only to their proper worship of God, but also to their mission; they accurately reflected the true God to the nations only when they lived in a way that reflected him (Ex. 19:5–6; Deut. 28:9–10). As a kingdom of priests, Israel was to be committed to the ministry of God's presence throughout the earth; and as a holy nation, Israel was "to be a people set apart, different from all other people by what they are and are becoming — a display people, a showcase to the world of how being in covenant with Yahweh changes a people."
In the new creation of the church, God also displays himself. The church too is rightly described as "a display people, a showcase to the world of how being in covenant with Yahweh changes a people." In Ephesians, Paul often underscores that God saves and creates the church to display himself, for example:
... so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (2:7)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (2:10)
... so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (3:10)(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Why We Belong"
Copyright © 2013 Anthony L. Chute, Christopher W. Morgan, and Robert A. Peterson.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Are Denominations Dead? Should They Be? Anthony L. Chute,
1 Toward a Theology of the Unity of the Church Christopher W. Morgan,
2 One Lord, One Faith, but Many Expressions: Denominations and Their Stories Anthony L. Chute,
3 Why I Am an Evangelical and an Anglican Gerald L. Bray,
4 Why I Am an Evangelical and a Baptist Timothy F. George,
5 Why I Am an Evangelical and a Lutheran Douglas A. Sweeney,
6 Why I Am an Evangelical and a Methodist Timothy C. Tennent,
7 Why I Am an Evangelical and a Pentecostal Byron D. Klaus,
8 Why I Am an Evangelical and a Presbyterian Bryan Chapell,
9 Denominationalism: Historical Developments, Contemporary Challenges, and Global Opportunities David S. Dockery,
What People are Saying About This
“Biblical evangelicalism must always be churchly, and churchly evangelicalism today cannot avoid being denominational. And denominational evangelicalism is a spiritual smorgasbord, offering more spiritual wealth and wisdom than any one person can possibly take on board. In these pages evangelical leaders become tour guides to their own denominational heritage. Authoritative? Yes. Absorbing? That too. Enriching? Very much so. Taste and see.”
—J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
“The editors have assembled a strong lineup of contributors to explain why they are both evangelicals and members of their specific denominations. The result is a sparkling presentation of the very best in a number of Protestant traditions, but also a welcome prompt to think about denominationalism itself. The book is for those who value history, biblical interpretation, Christian witness, and theology—that is, for nearly everyone.”
—Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame; editor, Protestantism after 500 Years
“The contributors to Why We Belong remind us that the strength of American evangelicalism is its unity-in-diversity. Their personal stories help us understand the importance of both our common evangelical faith and our respective denominational distinctives. This twin emphasis avoids narrow sectarianism, on the one hand, and lowest-common-denominator theology, on the other. As a movement, evangelicalism is richer because of the unified diversity displayed in the chapters of this commendable book.”
—George O. Wood, General Superintendent, Assemblies of God; Chairman, World Assemblies of God Fellowship; Executive Committee member, National Association of Evangelicals
“These essays reflect the wonderful unity and diversity that exist in the body of Christ. Thus, they show evangelicalism at its best. Written by practitioners of irenic Christian cooperation and conviction, this book will instruct young believers in the true purposes of evangelicalism. It will also remind older believers why evangelicalism is worth preserving.”
—Paul R. House, Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School; author, Old Testament Theology
“The authors of Why We Belong argue for a robustly evangelical ecumenism—one that does not downplay the importance of doctrine or paper over theological differences, but instead recognizes those differences for what they are and moves forward in authentic Christian unity. Highly recommended.”
—Bruce Riley Ashford, Provost and Associate Professor of Theology and Culture, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
“The gospel brings life, and that life finds expression in a myriad of institutional forms. This important book shows how evangelicalism, with its gospel-centeredness, transcends any particular denominational form and yet links those who share in the new life that Christ brings. More than that, this work offers a positive theology of denominationalism that is simply refreshing.”
—Graham A. Cole, Dean and Vice President of Education and Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“If you find yourself standing over the funeral of either denominationalism or evangelicalism with a smile on your face, then you owe it to yourself to read this book. With biblical wisdom and theological insight (and humor, too) the editors and contributors chart a beautiful path between appreciating all that is good in denominationalism and embracing all that is good in evangelicalism. To put it succinctly, we belong to our churches and we belong to each other—and both of these are so good for us.”
—Stephen J. Nichols, President, Reformation Bible College; Chief Academic Officer, Ligonier Ministries; author, Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought and The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
“Many of us have long felt that a passion for Christian unity does not mean the abolition of denominational distinctives. Finally, here is a book that supports loyalty to both the unique mission of one’s church and the larger unity of the people of God. We learn in its pages that the future strength of evangelicalism depends on a passion for both. A must read.”
—Frank D. Macchia, Professor of Systematic Theology, Vanguard University
“This book promotes a healthy Christian unity by showing how and why God’s family is much larger than any one denomination.”
—Andy Naselli, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology, Bethlehem College and Seminary, Minneapolis, Minnesota